Leonard Bernstein was certainly a phenomenon. It seemed that he
could do anything; teach, conduct, compose, play the piano, write
books, lecture. Later in life, to quote the booklet notes, he
got ďÖ carried away by the show business ÖĒ, thought that he was
Gustav Mahler re-incarnated, and had the unfortunate habit of
self indulgence. However, in his early career there was a vitality
and the spark of inspiration in everything he did and this burnt
bright and clear. Here are two very special performances, where
Bernstein is firing on all cylinders and everything is just right.
Schubert gets off to a good start with the slow introduction,
well-paced and given in a rock steady tempo, never diverting
from it and setting the scene for what follows. The transition
to the Allegro section is masterly and off we go. The tempo
is just about perfect, a spritely two-in-a-bar, the woodwind
hemiolas perfectly articulated. Splendid stuff and we can only
lament that the exposition isnít repeated for who wouldnít want
to be allowed to hear more of this excellent music making? The
tension is well controlled throughout the development section,
the dissonances coming as shocks within the tonal context, then
the almost nonchalant move into the recapitulation, with quiet
concentration. Best of all, is the way Bernstein slightly increases
the tempo for the coda, as he should, almost hitting the perfect
one-in-a-bar tempo, allowing the music to dance along, making
the most of the final statement of the big horn theme when it
reappears to close the movement, and not allowing the music
to descend into a banal rallentando through the final chords.
Bravo. Bravo. Bravo. This is, quite simply, a magnificent performance.
may find Bernsteinís tempo for the slow movement a bit on the
fast side; itís certainly faster than the walking pace Iím sure
Schubert had in mind, but you accept it quite quickly and when
you do it works well. There is certainly no hint of hurrying
and the climaxes are very well built.
scherzo is held back a little and Bernsteinís tempo really allows
every note to be heard. The precision of the playing is marvellous.
Thereís fire in the belly of this interpretation, a feeling
of not all being well, itís disturbing for we start to realize
that this isnít a pleasant little dance, itís another of Schubertís
unconscious Totentanzs which I feel in much of his later
music, the result of his being told, in 1823, that he had contracted
syphilis and that his days were numbered. The finale is given
at breakneck speed, high in tension, thrilling, disturbing,
chooses one tempo for each movement and sticks to it rigidly,
which makes for more cohesion within each section, and doesnít
allow for any romantic wallowing, which can so easily creep
into this music.
is an interpretation given at white heat, and itís the nearest,
with the exception of GŁnther Herbig at the Proms some twenty years ago, any conductor has
come to my view of an ideal interpretation of this difficult
score. The recorded sound isnít brilliant - it must come from
a radio broadcast but we are given no details, indeed the front
of the booklet tells us it was given in 1958 and the rear of
the box states 1957! Ė in fact itís a bit muddy; but who cares.
This performance is tremendous!
and conducting Ravelís G major Piano Concerto was one of
Bernsteinís party pieces and he first gave it in London in 1946.
Itís a real winner. This performance is lively and most enjoyable,
thereís a freshness to it which, for me, is lacking in his later
Sony recording with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra Ö good though
that performance is. However, surely this isnít a live performance
as the release tells us but the studio recording Bernstein made
in London for the date given for the performance is also the date
he made the 78s! The recording also sounds as if it comes from
78s made in a studio rather than a live performance. This transfer
is not of the best, thereís some distortion and a bit of wow,
but the performance shines through. This recording is available
elsewhere but donít let that put you off getting your hands on
this stunning Schubert 9, The Great C major, the Great